A Good Innings

As one wait ends, another begins. Today, the Government published its Workforce Plan – a “blueprint to boost the NHS workforce by 200,000.”

The details will be pored over but, thus far, it has received a broadly positive response. Not least from Shadow Health Minister, Wes Streeting who offered his respect to the Plan – because it was, in fact, “an exact copy of Labour’s ideas”. Such is the knockabout world of party politics.

It is no coincidence that the Plan has been published just prior to the next big thing in the nation’s calendar – the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the NHS

It has been a bruising few months for the NHS since we publicly clapped and bashed our saucepans to show our support for its resilience during Covid.  It would not, however, be entirely unfair to suggest that the institution now resembles more of a treasured family keepsake that’s seen better days. 

Would that the team in the Repair Shop could do for the NHS what they did for a GP’s bag, a desk and a bound collection of Michael Rosen’s writing in their NHS 75 Special. Bar Rosen’s scribblings from his time recovering from Covid, the other items brought in provided perfect metaphors for the NHS: they’d been designed for a different era, used a lot, were battered and largely non-functioning properly – but they were much revered by their owners. C-difficile may have been largely eliminated from the NHS. Nostalgia hasn’t.

It’s too tedious to list all the ills that beset the present day NHS. In any case, as its Chief Executive, Amanda Pritchard pointed out in her speech at NHS Confederation, the NHS has been the butt of criticism from the moment it was formed. It’s never been perfect. 

So, can it ever live up to expectation? Insight does not have the temerity to suggest magic solutions. Instead, we offer some informed but objective observations.

First, there seems to be a fixation by both politicians and senior NHS England officials that NHS = hospitals and secondary care. A shift in mindset towards primary care might be helpful. The clue’s in the term. 

Second, the culture of the NHS – as in most public services – is of short-termism. Spending now to save later is frequently at odds with the  use-it-or-lose-it concept of budget management. So, hurrah for the Workforce Plan which takes a rather unusual 15 year view.

Third – and most contentiously, is the free for everyone model really sustainable? 

75 is a good age. A good innings as you might say about a much loved, aged relative – while trying to allay that nagging thought: just how much longer will they have the puff to blow out the candles?

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